The Lord's Day Morning
January 9, 2011
“What the Law Shows about Our Hearts”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to open with me to Luke chapter 16 as we continue our way through the gospel; Luke chapter 16, looking at verses 14 to 18.
Now by way of introduction, I would remind you that the last thing that Luke has been talking about and that Jesus has been saying in this gospel to His disciples and to the Pharisees around them had to do with faithfulness regarding money. And you’ll also notice that the next thing that Jesus has to say that Luke records in his gospel has to do with the story of a rich man and a poor man. And so the focus on material possessions, the love of money, people who are rich and who loved wealth more than they loved God, is a topic that surrounds this passage.
Now if you look at this passage it begins in verse 14 with the Pharisees ridiculing Jesus because of what He had been teaching and then Jesus turns the topic to the issue of the Pharisees’ self-justification in verse 15 and then He begins to speak in verses 16 and 17 about the Law. Now it will raise in your mind as you read through this passage, “What in the world is Jesus doing talking about the Law here? Why, suddenly, a discussion about the Law?” It makes sense for Jesus to address the Pharisees about their tendency to justifying themselves, after all, He has just been speaking words which Luke tells us He meant specifically for the Pharisees because they were lovers of money, and the Pharisees have responded in terms of saying, “No,” that they weren't guilty of the things that Jesus had said that they were guilty of. They’re justifying themselves. That makes perfect sense, but why then would Jesus suddenly begin to talk about the Law?
Well I think that the passage will make it clear to you, but one reason is this — the Pharisees saw themselves as the great upholders of the Law and in this passage, Jesus has been expounding the Law and has been especially applying it in an area where the Pharisees were vulnerable and their response to His exposition of the Law was to ridicule Him and to justify themselves. And so Jesus says a word here about the Law because what are the Pharisees constantly accusing Him of? Belittling the Law. And here He says, “No, actually I'm the one that preaches the Law and that Law has been proclaimed by the prophets all the way up to John, but by your lives, you’re the ones who undermine the Law.” Jesus is making it clear that it's not He who undermines the Law; it's the Pharisees who undermine the Law. But the Law, if they understood it rightly, would actually show them something about their hearts. That's why He's suddenly talking about the Law in this passage and that's why you get this seemingly strange reference to adultery and to divorce in verse 18 because He is illustrating, through their attitude towards money and through their teaching – their bad teaching on divorce and on adultery – that they in fact fall short of the Law. It's not He who is undermining the Law; it's they who are undermining the Law by their lives, both in regard to money and marriage.
Well bear that in mind and perhaps this passage will make sense to you as we read it together this morning and as we hear God speak to us from it. Let's pray before we read it.
Lord, this is Your Word. We need Your help to understand it, so give us that help we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it:
“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The Law shows us something about our hearts if our eyes are open to see it. The Law reveals to us deep things that are often hidden from the eyes of others, deep things about us if our eyes are open to look. James, you remember, says in his little book that the royal Law, the Law of God, the whole Word of God but especially the moral law which has been revealed to us and summarized by Moses in the Ten Commandments and summarized by Jesus in the two great commandments, that royal law of God serves as a mirror that if we will look into it will show us things about ourselves that we wouldn't see without the help of that mirror.
Have you ever walked around all day with something on your face? You know, something on the corner, right there – you got it during breakfast and you didn't check in the mirror before you left and then all day long – and then suddenly you looked in the mirror late in the afternoon and there it was and you wished you’d looked in a mirror earlier in the morning. That's how the Law is. It’ll show you things about yourself that you wouldn't see otherwise. And that's one of the things that Jesus is saying in this passage to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were lovers of money. Interestingly, the Sadducees tended to come from the highest classes socioeconomically in Israel. The Pharisees, they were climbers, and they loved money and they wanted to be well-off. And Jesus has said consistently that they cared more about material things, about mammon, about stuff, about money, than they did about the things that really mattered. And He's just told a story about that immediately prior to this passage and He's going to tell another story about that – the story of the rich man and Lazarus. That's coming up. And in response to Jesus’ story, the Pharisees — look at verse 14 — “ridicule Him.” And so Jesus begins to speak to them about themselves and about the Law in verses 15 through 18. And in the course of doing so, He tells us that the Law shows us something very important about our hearts that we need to know and we’ll see it if our eyes are open to that Law.
And there are three things in particular that I want you to see in this passage as we look at it briefly this morning. The first is that the Law shows us our idolatry. The Law will show us what we're worshiping if we’ll look at it. Secondly, that the Law shows us our need if we will look at it. But finally, that the Law does not give the solution that we need for that need. The Law shows us our idol, it shows us our need, but it does not give us the solution for our need. Let's look at these things together.
First of all, the Law shows us our idolatry. It will reveal our idol, what it is that we are worshiping instead of God if we will look at that Law. In this passage it's clear that an idol of the Pharisees was money. It's also clear that another idol of the Pharisees was what? Public praise for being righteous. They really wanted to be thought of as deeply spiritual, righteous men. So they loved money and they loved the praise of people and they loved those things more than they loved God. And the Law reveals that. The Law shows that the Pharisees are lovers of money. They were religious figures who rejected the clear, incisive teaching of Scripture about loving God more than loving mammon. In fact, if you look at the passage, Jesus says five things about the Pharisees.
First, they overvalued money. Verse 14 — “They were lovers of money” rather than lovers of God. More than lovers of God, they overvalued money. That's the first thing we learn about the Pharisees in this passage.
But we also learn that they undervalued Jesus. While they overvalued money, they undervalued Jesus because when Jesus spoke they ridiculed Him. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine Jesus being here this morning and preaching and my response and your response to Him being to ridicule Him? “You’re out of Your mind, Jesus! You don't know what You’re talking about! You’re wrong! You’re wrong about me, You’re wrong about the Word, You’re wrong in Your teaching!” Can you imagine responding to Jesus that way? The Pharisees did.
So they overvalued money and they undervalued Jesus and third, they wanted to appear righteous. It was really important to them for other people to say, “Boy, he's holy. Boy, he's spiritual. Boy, he's godly. Boy, he's wise. Boy, I admire him.” That was very important for them. Notice, “You are those who justify yourselves before men.” They wanted to look like religious leaders and spiritual men and godly men in the eyes of their contemporaries.
But fourth, even though they wanted to appear righteous and receive praise from men, they were not right with God in their own hearts. Look at it again in verse 15 — “But God knows your heart. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” God knew that they were not what they appeared to be.
And fifth, they loved what God abominated. “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” They loved mammon. They were greedy and covetous in their hearts for money. And what does Paul say covetousness is? “It is idolatry.” And what does God say in the Law? “I abominate idols.” So here they are, wanting to look spiritual, while in the fact in their hearts they were idolaters just as much as prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel they were idolaters. And the Law would have showed them this if their eyes were open. The Law exposes our hearts. It shows us our idols.
I love what J. C. Ryle says about this passage. Because let's not pick on the Pharisees for a moment; let's pick on ourselves. This is not just their problem, it's ours. J. C. Ryle says, “The truth of this solemn saying of Jesus appears on every side of us. We have only to look around the world and mark the things on which most people set their affections to see what Jesus says proved a hundred ways. Riches, honors, rank, pleasure — these are the chief objects for which the greater part of mankind are living. Yet these are the very things which God declares to be empty, vanity. And the love of them He warns us to beware. Praying and Bible reading and holy living and repentance and faith and grace and communion with God — these are things for which few people care at all, yet these are the things which God in His Bible is ever urging on our attention. The disagreement between these two things is glaring, painful and appalling. What God calls good, we call evil, and what God calls evil, we call good. But the more entirely we are of one mind with God as to what He calls good, the better we are prepared for the Day of Judgment. To love what God loves, to hate what God hates, to approve what God approves, this is the highest style of Christianity. The moment we find ourselves honoring anything which in the sight of God is lightly esteemed, we may be sure that there is something wrong in our souls.”
The Pharisees would have known that if their eyes had been open to the Law. They could have known that if their eyes had been open to the Law. They should have known that. They were the teachers of the Law! They should have known it. The Law shows us the idolatry of our hearts if our eyes are open to it.
Secondly, the Law shows us our need. The Law would have displayed to the Pharisees their need for forgiveness of the sins of covetousness and money-loving and idolatry and seeking reputation and affirmation from their fellow men rather than loving God had their eyes been open to it. The Law would have displayed to the Pharisees their desperate need for the forgiveness of sins, for their greed, their covetousness, their idolatry, and they’re playing fast and loose with the Word of God. And Jesus just gives two examples. One, the love of money here and two, in verse 18, their approach to divorce and remarriage.
Now it's interesting, isn't it, that in this passage Jesus mentions only a man divorcing his wife unbiblically and remarrying or marrying a woman who is unbiblically divorced from her husband. And this is because unlike Roman law, it was very, very difficult for women to get divorces in Israel. And so the sin is primarily one of men in Israel. In Roman law, women had a greater ability to get a divorce. In Israel, in Jesus’ time, pretty much the only people that divorced were men. If you had a bad man on your hands in Israel in Jesus’ day you were in trouble. There wasn't much you could do with him legally. But men, men were allowed to divorce for all manner of things. According to one rabbi, if a man had a wife who burned his dinner he could divorce her! According to another, if a man found a woman that was prettier than his wife he could divorce his wife and marry her! And Jesus is very clearly here criticizing the way the Pharisees have done what? They've made a big deal about how much they care about God's Word and they've done what? They've found loopholes for men to unbiblically divorce their wives and to unbiblically remarry. And He goes after them hammer and tong.
And what's His point? “You guys make a big deal about how much you care about God's Law but for your wealthy supporters you will find all sorts of loopholes in God's Law for them, even when they are clearly, clearly breaking what God has said in His Word — ‘You are to remember the wife of your youth and be faithful to her.’ And you’re making excuses for them.” Now what the Pharisees should have seen there is their need. They should have seen, “Lord, we don't measure up to Your Law. We’re condemned by Your Law. We need forgiveness.” But they didn't because their eyes weren't open.
So the Law shows us our idol and it shows us our need if our eyes are open, but here's one last thing I want you to see. The Law does not offer the solution to our problem. I heard one preacher put it this way — “Our problem is not our problem. Our problem is that we don't know that we have a problem.” But once we know that we have a problem, once we know that we don't measure up to the Law and that we do fall short of God's Law and that we're condemned by that Law, the problem is the Law doesn't offer a solution to that problem. But notice what Jesus says in this passage. Look at the end of verse 16 — “The Law and the prophets were” — and I take it, because of the parallel with the next phrase that He's saying “preached” or “proclaimed” — “The Law and the prophets were preached until John. Since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” And of course the good news of the kingdom of God, and He mentions John's name — what was John's first message? It's Jesus’ first message too recorded in the gospels. What was it? Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand; the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
What's the good news of the kingdom of God? That the way into the kingdom is not by having kept the Law perfectly because nobody ever has, and it's certainly not as the Pharisees were trying, it's certainly not by finding loopholes in the Law that you get into the kingdom. The good news is, the way into the kingdom is by God's gracious forgiveness of those who repent. You see, the Law can't forgive you. The Law can tell you of your need of forgiveness, but the Law can't forgive you. Only the Gospel offers that forgiveness. Only Christ can forgive you. Only God can forgive you through the work of Jesus Christ. And it is repentance and faith whereby we lay hold of that forgiveness that is offered in Jesus Christ.
Now my friends, this is going to be perfectly pictured for us in the Lord's Supper. We will repeat the Law together and that Law will show us our sin but it will not provide for us a solution for that sin. It will point us to a Savior who provides a solution for that sin.
Heavenly Father, as we come to this Gospel ordinance, we pray that we will come understanding what each of us needs. We need forgiveness and only You can give it to us in Jesus. Help us to understand that and to believe that. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Now take your hymnals in hand and turn to number 534 and we’ll sing it as we come to the Lord's Table.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, the apostle Paul gives these words whereby we institute the Lord's Supper. “For I receive from the Lord that which I deliver to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and He said, ‘This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And the same way He took the cup also after supper saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord, but a man must examine himself and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.’”
This Lord's Table is for those who are trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. That is first and foremost what it means to judge the Lord's Supper rightly, to understand that it is a picture of God's Gospel provision for you and that you are trusting in that provision alone to come to God by. So I want to invite to the Lord's Table this morning all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation as He is offered in the Gospel and who have joined themselves to the Body of Christ, His Church. If you’re not a believer, if you haven't identified yourself with His Church, if you haven't trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you haven't realized your need of sin and placed your trust in Him for free forgiveness, then this Table is not for you. This Table is for sinners who know they’re sinners who know their need but have found that need met in Jesus Christ alone. So if you’re not resting and trusting in Him today, don't come to this table, but earnestly wrestle with Him in prayer and repent of your sins and trust in Him and then the next time we come together, come as a fellow believer, trusting in the offer which only Jesus can make because His life is the only life which avail for us.
Now let's set apart these common elements for a holy use in prayer. Let's pray.
Eternal God, You are the Lord of creation, You are the triune God, and You are our Redeemer through Jesus Christ. We gather today at Your bidding and we acknowledge Your grace to us and we ask that You would make these common elements to serve as Your means of grace to Your believing people and grant that we would receive them by faith and so taste of heavenly mercies bestowed by the Spirit. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Now the Lord's Supper is for professing believers in Jesus Christ who have discerned the body of the Lord and it's appropriate that we would confess our common faith before we take it. So I'd invite you to look at The Apostles’ Creed. If you don't have it by memory and heart it's found in the bulletin or in your hymnal, and let's confess our faith together as we come to the Table.
Christian, what do you believe?
“I believe in God the Father, Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth:
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell;
the third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of
God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge
the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.
It's also appropriate as we come to the Lord's Table to recount the Ten Commandments. You’ll also find a summary of them given in the bulletin. And let's remember that those Ten Commandments show us the idolatry of our hearts. They show us our need and then they point us to Jesus Christ who can provide us the forgiveness that we need.
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and your mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet.
“On the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took the bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, He gave it to His disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat, this is My body given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’”
“In the same manner, the Lord Jesus took also the cup, and having given thanks as had been done in His name, He gave to His disciples and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink ye all of it.’”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It's a gift of God, not of works, so that no man may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand.”
“The bread that we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”
“For He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.”
“The cup that we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Jesus Christ?”
O Lord Jesus, we praise You for the gift of the sacrament of Your Supper, that You desire to sit and commune with us and to bring us into Your presence by the work of our Savior on the cross. Through His work we now gather together and have supped with You, our God. Father, we praise You and thank You that in coming we acknowledge that we have nothing in an of ourselves to offer. We are nothing before You. But through our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, we can come and die. So Father we praise You. We pray that this Supper today might encourage us, enable us Father to know that You are real, that even as the bread was between our teeth and the sweetness of the juice was on our tongue, may we remember the reality of Your blood that was really shed and Your body really broken that we might have life. And may that encourage us Father to live for Your glory every day. May this time that we have sat with You be a time Father that encourages us, motivates us to please You in all that we do because Father, You have bought us and we belong to You. And we thank You for our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ who died in our place that we might call You Father.
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